Recently I finished another issue of the famous Japanese manga 宇宙兄弟 (Space Brothers), issue 15. In this issue, one of the main characters, Namba Hibito (なんば日々人) is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after an accident on the Moon. This is called panikku shōgai (パニック障害) in Japanese. Hibito cannot even wear a space-suit because it gives him flashbacks to the accident.
To help recover, he takes a trip to Russia and gets help from a Russian astronaut named Ivan. Ivan is older, and likes to drink. A real man’s man. He pushes Hibito to drink with him, but at first Hibito refuses because he just doesn’t feel like it. Ivan gets offended and pushes Hibito to drink with him anyway.
This seems really strange at first, until Ivan explains why. When Hibito had his accident on the Moon, the other astronauts kept him safe inside the Moon base after that until they returned to Earth. But Ivan explains that this is not the Russian way:
If Russian astronauts had the same accident, after being helped they would soon go out on a spacewalk again without leaving much time in between. In that short time, if you could really experience that you’re OK [not just thinking it], then on the next space walk, you’d be fine.
Instead, Ivan says that if the astronauts were Russian they would have taken him out on the Moon surface again (船外, sengai) as a group. He emphasizes that the best way to get over a traumatic experience like that is to not be alone until you can build confidence again. But first you have to build trust.
So, Ivan’s approach is to build trust between Ivan and Hibito by drinking together, so that Hibito doesn’t feel he has to face his PTSD alone. Once Hibito understood this, they started drinking. After this, Ivan helps Hibito by giving him very simple challenges like walking 10m wearing a costume. Because Hibito now trusts Ivan, he easily overcomes these challenges, rebuilds confidence, and quickly starts to recover.
The lesson here is not that drinking alcohol solves your problems, but that you shouldn’t face them alone. We are social animals and we need each other.